The hypnotic clunking of the cart wheels helped relax Snux. The thoughts were swimming in his head. Tactics for the next game, team talk ideas, escape plan if they lose. The team were in high spirits, however. Farkle was bragging about his new ‘Up an’ over’ punching technique. Fungus and Wicket had been working on a throwing move, with half the week spent teaching Fungus which direction they are supposed to move. The rest of the team were involved in the usual pre-game jokes and squabbles. All of this completely washed over Snux, if it wasn’t for cheering fans he wouldn’t have snapped out of his trance before they reached the stadium.
The shadow of the newly renovated Onion Bowl loomed over the team convoy. Snux noticed that he could barely see the hole where the runaway mule cart collapsed a holding beam. As the team departed the various carts the players reverted to their pre-game states. The Snotlings were often very energetic, bouncing around and chattering. Each of the Ogres were quiet. Snux often wondered whether it was meditation or a lack of brain power. Whatever it was, they seemed more focused than usual. “Perhaps I will survive after all”, thought Snux.
With minutes left until the kick off there was a knock on the door. Without a second’s hesitation the door sprung open. With a grand flourish a man entered.
“I…,” began the man, putting a deliberate delay between his words, “am Horatio X. Schottenheim, Master Mage extraordinaire!”
The Snotling chatter stopped. An Ogre grunted.
The man continued, “I am here today to prove to you that I am the most mind boggling, magnificent and mesmerising mage from here to Middenheim!” and he conjured a ball of smoke and flame in his hands. A couple of the rookie Snotlings applauded. A second Ogre grunted.
“Fanks, Mr Mage,” Snux squeaked, his tongue struggling with most human speak, never mind Schottenwhatever. “We will see you on da pitch.”
By game time the ogres had woken up. Guttural roars and head crashes were the new routine. For the snotlings it was time to avoid the belly charges of Farkle and Fungus. The 18,000 or so cheering fans got to see some pre-match action as Farkle and Fergus got into a scrap, before Felicia pulled her brothers apart. Snux rubbed his hands with glee, at least the lads were up for a fight!
The referee brought both team captains to the centre circle for the coin toss. Towered over by both an Ogre and a Chaos Warrior, the referee flipped the coin high into the air. The monstrous Mighty Gorgons captain yelled out first. “Heads!” he shouted, the voice seemingly projected from 8 directions in succession. The coin spun to the ground. Tails. “Dey Kick,” growled Farkle as he lumbered back to his team.
The whistle sounded and the ball was kicked high into the air! Fists flew and bones crunched as both lines collided. Weechee found himself in possession of the ball. As he was almost the same height as the ball he knew this would be tricky. His fear increased as he saw Crag Hack, Beastman and part-time poet, cruelly smash through one of the rookies. Weechee scrambled forward, the cheering crowd unable to drown out the screams of injured snotlings. Weechee kept running. Running away from the screams. Running with the ball. Wait, did he just score? He had the ball, and was in the end zone, and the referee blew his whistle.
One nil to the Shreking Balls!
Snux bounced up and down in the dugout. They might win this, and he might live! Sure a few of the boys were injured, but nothing a bit of spit and rest won’t fix. “Oi ladz,” he shouted to the closest ogres, “Git at ’em quick, an’ git at ’em ‘ard!” Fergus gives the boss a nod and a grunt as he lumbers to the scrimmage.
Punches were thrown before the ball was even in the air, but luckily the referee’s eyes were skyward. The Mighty Gorgons attack was hard and fast. Another snotling was destroyed in the onslaught of Chaotic fury. Snux looked down the line to where the Master Mage had perched himself on a wooden stool. “Oi! Do summthin’!” Snux shouted. Horatio bounded up, cloak billowing behind him. He nimbly manoeuvred his fingers, flailed his arms, sang praises to Aqshy, and launched a fireball towards the charging Chaos players. The fireball barely singed the Beastman’s hair as it missed by a good ten strides. “What waz that?!” Snux bellowed, kicking the ground with anger, “We paid yer gud money!” The Beastman was already celebrating his touchdown yards from the line. Enough time for his teammate to wipe out another snotling. One all as the whistle blew for half time.
Snux slammed the door of the changing room. Besides the heavy breathing of the ogres, the room was silent. “Youz were doin’ well, yer got sloppy, dey got a score.” He walked over to Fergus, “You were rubbish!” Over to Weechee, “You were gud.” Snux walked over to the pot of brew in the corner. He poured himself a drink while he tried to regain his composure. Blowing away the chunks from the bowl, he took a gulp and carried on. “Lissen. Dey are a gud team. If we played ’em ten times, dey might win nine. But tonight we are gunna hurt ’em. We are gunna get in dere faces and beat em!” The snotlings in the dressing room all cheered in unison. The ogres cheered a few moments later. The team were ready for the second half.
A long kick began the half. The remaining snotlings watching in fear as the block of Chaos Warriors charged forward. From out of no where Farkle began to thunder towards the Mighty Gorgons. He charged past two dumbfounded players and collided with the ball carrying beastman. The player and ball soared into the air. Snux watched on as the ball bounced into the crowd, who launched it across the pitch. It landed at the feet of the hapless Paploo.
Paploo looked at the ball. Every fibre of his body screamed at him to run away from the ball. “If I don’t have the ball, they might not hit me,” he thought out loud. Then he looked at the pile of his injured team mates, remembered his boss’s words, and sprinted up field with the ball above his head. As he scrambled towards the sidelines his team mates clouded around him. Ducking under outstretched arms the snotling swarm scurried towards the midfield. As fast as their tiny legs were caryying them, they could not outrun the Mighty Gorgon defence. Too late to dodge away, the horns of the braying defender clattered Paploo to his back, the ball bouncing away.
“No!” screamed Snux. He put his head in his hands. “I’m not goin’ in da pot!” He ran over to the Mage, half thinking he should run to the exit. “Right, yer gonna earn yer money dis time. Don’t let dat ball get near our line!” He’d barely go to the dugout when he heard the crowd grown. Looking towards the pitch he saw singed grassed and a fleeing Mage near the endzone. Snux was white. He gulped and slumped into his seat.
Jabarkas bucked and brayed on his way to the end-zone. On defence his single mindedness was an asset. Here, though, he failed to see the hog pie thrown towards his head. He dropped to the floor, snout on the touchline, ball next to his horns.
The Shreking Balls fans howled in derision at the prone beastman. Snux looked up from his sulk. The ogre players were busy punching their opposite Chaos numbers, but the snots might be able to get the ball. “Run run RUN!” he squeaked. Snux prayed to Gork, to Mork, to Nuffle, to anyone that was listening. Across the pitch Winda began running towards the ball. “Yes! Yes!” Snux cheered. Winda dodged under the legs of a Gorgon defender, then tripped over his own feet. Snux’s prayers were to go unanswered.
The booing echoed around his head. Jabarkas stood up and brushed himself down. Staring at the Shreking Balls fans he strolled over to the ball, picked it up, and scored the easiest touchdown of his career.
Snux wasn’t hanging around. He cursed the game, he cursed the mage, he cursed the team. Sprinting past his injured former players he headed towards the exit. If only the players were this nimble, he thought as he saw the light shining through the closed gate. Locked. He pounded his tiny fists on the wood and yelled in frustration. He looked around for any sort of exit, a hole to crawl through, a sewer to wade through. Suddenly the light went black. The canvas bag was around his head and body and he was upside down.
The day after the match, an announcement was made that Snux was being sent on early retirement and The Shreking Balls were proud to unveil Günther Weyrauch as new Head Coach, the first Human coach in the Ogre teams history.
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